A Lung Doctor Explains the Best Predictor of COVID-19 Severity

Philip Ellis
·2 min read

From Men's Health

Pulmonary medicine specialist and critical care doctor Mike Hansen, MD has been making YouTube content throughout the pandemic with the goal of clearing up misinformation and explaining the science behind public health guidelines and the vaccine.

It's widely known by now that being in high risk groups such as male, aged over 50, a smoker, overweight, or with an underlying health condition can increase the likelihood of becoming ill. But in his latest video, Hansen goes into a little more detail on other factors that healthcare professionals are using to anticipate how serious a patient's experience of the virus may be.

He starts by talking about viral dose; the number of viral particles that your mucus membranes are exposed to. "The higher the dose, the more likely your immune system will not clear all of the viral particles and an infection takes hold," he says. "The amount of virus someone gets into their system depends not only on the duration that they're exposed to someone with the virus, but also the viral concentration that you're exposed to, in addition to proximity. This is why social distancing and masks are so important in order to mitigate this very process."

One key indicator of how serious a COVID patient's illness will be, he continues, is viral load. The term "viral load" refers to the level of replicating virus in the body, and can be measured in blood samples and swabs from the nose and throat.

"Studies have found that the higher the viral load in nasopharyngeal swabs or from blood, the more severe the disease will be, with higher viral loads equating to two times or higher odds of needing a breathing tube," says Hansen. "And this is regardless of age, other risk factors, and severity of illness at time of presentation to the hospital."

"Having date on viral load may help researchers better understand the natural course of COVID infection," he states, adding that a declining viral load in a population may potentially be used as an indication for when the pandemic is getting better in each community.

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